Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Just when you thought that week 1 of this blog resuming posting could go by without a shout out to our favorite American “allies,” this week has has been full of delightful news in the region.

  • Our venal, incompetent ally in the presidential palace in Kabul may be suffering a nervous breakdown, but we are stuck with him.
  • Our venal, incompetent (though well meaning) ally in the presidential palace in Islamabad could be forced out of office in a shadow coup.
  • Pakistan is seething about drone attacks that NATO is now aggressively carrying out on their side of the border for the logical reason that the terrorists are located there.  The problem is that the drones have tendency to kill Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
  • As a result, American supply lines to Afghanistan are threatened by attacks on NATO convoys and by Pakistan blocking them.
  • The overhyped Pakistani offensive in the tribal areas still has not worked (as evidenced by the stoning to death of a woman by the Taliban for being seen with a man).
  • But Pakistan’s leaders are still focused on the drones crossing the border rather than fighting the Taliban in its North Waziristan stronghold.  Their elite in denial try to pretend that they are somehow being sucked into America’s war – even though Pakistan midwifed the Taliban and by sponsoring Al-Qaeda’s ideological allies as proxies against India was the training ground for terror.  This (and the recent discovery of a terror plot in Europe by men of Pakistani origin) got them a dressing down from CIA director Leon Panetta.
  • And last but most importantly, the Afghan army will not be ready in time for the withdrawal of American troops.

I understand the political imperative that forced the Afghan surge, but it has not worked in the face of bumbling civilian allies and duplicitous military ones (as shown by the Wikileaks documents this summer).  The question remains whether the administration will have the courage to cut its losses and focus on a smarter war against Al Qaeda, rather than squandering blood and treasure in the Land of Bones.

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Posted on 06-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hamid Karzai is the gift that gives on giving.  The latest by Afghanistan’s venal leader was a burst of peevishness at members of his parliament for having the temerity to block his takeover of the Afghan electoral commission.  See link.  Karzai declared that any more pressure on him would make him join the Taliban.  I encourage him to make the jump, though expect that he will receive the Najibullah treatment in short order if he makes such a move.  Now it is understandable that Karzai is looking for room to maneuver as the United States prepares to leave.  See link.  But by repeatedly criticizing the United States and NATO troops attempting to secure Afghanistan as occupiers he makes the task of pacification that much harder.

Others have noted that Karzai seems to be banking on the fact of his supposed indispensability and perhaps Washington has long memories of the South Vietnam quagmire after it acquiesed in the removal of President Ngo Dinh Diem.  See link.  If so, I think it is a mistake.  It is a mystery of why this venal incompetent with no political base to speak of became indispensable.  Part of the Karzai appeal stems from his being one of the few Pashtun leaders acceptable to other Afghan ethnicities.  But the election fraud last year has dimmed that appeal in the non-Pashtun regions.  His government’s corruption has similarly sapped reservoirs of goodwill in the Pashtun heartland (not helped by the nefarious dealings of his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai).  The supposed indispensability largely stems from a fear of the unknown, something previous Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf exploited to the hilt.

Yet after Musharraf’s departure Pakistan has finally moved against its Taliban proxies and its feeble civil institutions are showing signs of life.  And yet for years Washington and its allies and neighboring India put up with Musharraf’s double dealing because of the fear of what would happen if the urbane English speaking dictator left.  Pakistan may yet fall apart but fears of its imminent cataclysmic collapse appear overstated.  The same appears true in Afghanistan.  The west needs a competent reliable ally in Kabul and it is increasingly clear that the urbane English speaking Karzai is simply not that man.  His presence in power is likely to result in the waste of American blood spilled during the ongoing surge.

Karzai’s departure obviously will not be a panacea to Afghanistan’s ills.  Yet at this point it is increasingly hard to see how it will be worse.  I will close with a couple of clips from yesterday night’s Jon Stewart.

The first is a tongue in cheek look at Karzai’s latest blathering and the consequence of Karzai’s departure.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Turncloak
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

The second is a more serious discussion with Reza Aslan on why and whether America should remain in Afghanistan.  While I understand Aslan’s point about the moral commitment made by the United States and the squandered opportunity, the reality is that the presence of foreign troops is increasingly unpopular and it is not clear that America will ever be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Reza Aslan
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

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Posted on 03-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Update to the blog post from yesterday.  See here.  After shoving his foot firmly in his mouth the Mayor of Kabul has tried to “clarify” his comments by blaming every politicians favorite target – the media.  See link.  While Karzai likes to blame foreigners his own Parliament almost unanimously gave him an open handed slap by rejecting his attempt to pack the Electoral Complaints Commission with his cronies.  See link.  Its not clear whether this restores the autonomy of the commission, but its a small step for the rule of law in the face of a venal leader’s diktat.

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Posted on 02-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Words fail me.  The logic of the claim is baffling.  After blatantly rigging last year’s Afghan elections Hamid Karzai now claims that it was the EU and UN observers who committed the rigging to place a puppet regime in power.  See link.  Either Karzai’s delusions have deepened or this is his latest ham-fisted attempt to explain why he is trying to pack the  Afghan electoral commission with cronies appointed by him.  If he wants to bullshit his way out of his latest jam couldn’t his brain trust come up with something better?

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Posted on 30-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Its been a while since I picked on our old friend Hamid Karzai.  Like the itch you cannot scratch he is impossible to forget.  See link.  Ticked off at the brazen packing of the Afghan election commission (which unearthed his election fraud) with cronies the Obama administration sent him a message by withdrawing his invitation to visit Washington.  Since then the mayor of Kabul has been sulking in his palace, garbing himself in the cloak of Afghan nationalism and irritating Washington by flattering the electoral thief on his western border.  Its hard to see what Karzai’s strategy is.  He has no base and no army loyal exclusively to him.  He remains propped up by the dual support of Washington and his warlord cronies.  Washington’s patience has run out.  The fate of Mohammad Najibullah should warn him of the perils of relying on mercurial warlords.

What he needs more than ever is to midwife a resolution of the Afghan civil war before the Americans leave and then pray that Pakistan’s usual games in Afghanistan do not cause his regime to crumble.  It will require diplomatic tact and statesmanship that has not yet been on display.  But instead Karzai fiddles in the Afghan ruins, watches Pakistan force itself into the Afghan negotiating table and irritates the only people who can keep him in power.  Joe Biden once proposed partitioning Iraq.  That may be in Iraq’s future.  It is a pity he did not propose something similar for the basket case buffer that is the legacy of the Great Game.

Emir Sher Ali with his friends

Political cartoon depicting the Afghan Emir Sher Ali with his "friends" the Russian Bear & British Lion (1878).

The cartoon from 1878 above seems oddly prescient.  Just the participants have changed.

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Posted on 16-02-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The last few weeks have seen an uptick in right wing carping about the Obama administration’s allegedly weakness in fighting terror (in large part based on increasing discredited facts about the arrest and interrogation of the underpants bomber and their refusal to torture him).  As signs of the silly season of the silly season are this piece by vocal torture supporter Marc Thiessen that the Obama administration is too darn successful in killing terrorists and is thereby costing us valuable intelligence.  Dick Cheney emerged from his coven to lob his usual broad sides at the administration.

Then came the news of the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi.  See link. Mullah Baradar is second in influence to Mullah Omar and coordinates the old Afghan Taliban’s military operations.  See link.  The arrest complicates the Taliban’s military response to the surge and is an opportunity to be exploited.  The administration is also drawing kudos for keeping quiet about the arrest while intelligence leads against the Taliban in Karachi were pursued.

The fact that this arrest occurred in Karachi shows how the drone campaign is affecting Taliban operations.  Pakistan’s commercial capital has seen an influx of Pashtuns of late and an uptick in violence (beyond the usual round of blood letting between the native Sindhis and the Muhajirs – Muslims who emigrated from India after partition).

The arrest has raised hopes that Pakistan is finally co-operating fully in the fight against the Taliban.  But not everyone is convinced.  Juan Cole in the link above speculates that the violence triggered by the Taliban starting to relocate to Karachi forced the Pakistanis to act.  Others have speculated that it is a cynical attempt to insert Pakistan into the talks with the Taliban.  See link.  I have been harsh in my evaluation of Pakistan’s Janus-faced cooperation in the past, but for now I will defer comments until events play themselves out.

I will also allow my sliver of hope for Afghanistan to widen, slightly.

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Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Following up on my previous posts here and here, is this Newsweek article on the practical difficulty of buying off the Taliban.  See link.  A failure to buy off the “good-Taliban” renders a large chunk of the Obama administration’s Afghan pacification strategy meaningless.  Ron Moreau’s article highlights how the choice before the Pashtun peasantry resembles Morton’s fork.

There is no love lost for the brutal Taliban, but still a sneaking admiration for the true believers who have not taken the easy way out.  But the weak and venal Karzai regime along with its equally brutal warlords offer likelihood of protection.

When the Americans leave it is very likely things fall apart.  As noted in previous blogs, the Taliban resurgence has been immeasurably aided by the inability or the unwillingness of Pakistan to crack down on their former clients.   Pakistan’s crumbling state has also been unable and unwilling to seal off the porous Afghan border.  So the Taliban can strike, retreat to its Pakistani refuge and strike again. Even without the active backing of Pakistani intelligence services, this strategic advantage allows them to survive the immense disparity of manpower that exists on the ground.

Assuming Pakistan has cut off the cash and weapons flow to its former proxies, will that continue once America leaves?  There is little love lost between Karzai and his Tajik and Uzbek allies and Pakistan.  The temptation to rehash the early 1990s could prove irresistible to a Pakistani regime that still tries to distinguish between the domestic Taliban it is bombing and the Afghan Taliban it harbors, however unwillingly.

For a long time I supported the Afghan surge and still believe the diversion of American attention to Iraq cost the world a chance in a generation to guide an exhausted Afghanistan to an uneasy peace.  But as the Afghan conflict starts morphing into a tribal civil war of the sort that has plagued it since the creation of the country by Ahmad Shah Abdali, the desirability of American boots on the ground in the middle of the crossfire will continue to drop.

I hold out a tiny sliver of hope that the Afghan regime will prove my pessimism wrong, but the sliver is tiny and keeps shrinking.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

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A recent Foreign Policy article highlights a danger to stability in Afghanistan not often discussed – the toxic relationship between India and Pakistan.  See link.  This dates back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.  Afghanistan (even under the Pakistani created and supported Taliban) never accepted the Durand Line drawn by the British as the border between the two countries.  This line divides the Pashtun people between the two countries.  As a result every government in Kabul (other than the Taliban) has had a frosty relationship with Pakistan and a warm one with India.  Paranoid about facing hostile states on both flanks, Pakistan has always sought to install a more pliant regime in Kabul.

Baluch and Pashtun dispersion between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (in red). The blue area represents the predominant Pashtun and Baloch area.

It is one of the reasons why Pakistan has proved so unwilling to dump its Taliban clients and has eagerly pushed the idea of a reconciliation with the “Good Taliban.”  India having faced a tide of Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in the past decades sees this as a distinction without a difference.

India has been one of the major aid contributors to rebuilding Afghanistan.  This has, as usual, stirred paranoia about Indian intentions in Pakistan with wilder theories speculating that India intends to install military bases in the region once the Americans leave.  In 2008, these fears appear to have prompted an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  See link.

Given its ethnic divisions, Afghanistan is always likely to be a weak state subject to meddling by its neighbors.  The Indo-Pakistani tussle is yet another destabilizing influence that imperils any attempt to pacify Afghanistan.  And then there is Iranian meddling in the western part of the country.  The world community should prepare contingency plans if (or maybe when) things fall apart after the United States departs the region.

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Posted on 30-12-2009
Filed Under (History, India, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

The Indo-Scythian King Azes II is mostly known by his diverse coinage.  However, in the West and the Numismatic world he is often known by claims that he was on of the Three Kings/Wisemen/Magi who attended the birth of Jesus.  There is of course no evidence in the historical record to support this assertion and the historical Azes may not even have been alive at the time of the birth of Jesus.

Indo-Scythian Kingdom from Wikipedia

None of this has prevented (even reputed) coin dealers from attaching the relatively obscure Indo-Scythian King who ruled a loosely held kingdom across Northwestern India and Afghanistan (that crumbled shortly after his death) to the Nativity.  Given the tendency for price inflation of items connected to the Bible this has likely elevated the asking price for and interest in the coins of Azes II which are largely minted in the style of the Indo-Greeks.

Azes II Coin from Wikipedia

Silver coin of King Azes II (r.c. 35-12 BCE). Obv: King with coat of mail, on horse, holding a sceptre, with Greek royal headband. Greek legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΖΟΥ "The Great King of Kings Azes". Rev: Athena with shield and lance, making a hand gesture identical to the Buddhist vitarka mudra. Kharoshti legend MAHARAJASA RAJADIRAJASA MAHATASA AYASA "The Great King of Kings Azes". Buddhist triratna symbol in the left field.

Even if the three magi who visited Bethlehem were actually Kings, that one of them would be a central Asian nomad who abandoned his kingdom to travel across the hostile Parthian Empire to a small hamlet in an obscure corner of the world strains credulity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The New York Times has a piece on a pattern of killings within Hamid Karzai’s extended family and the attempts to hush it up.  Honor killings and revenge killings permeate throughout tribal societies like Afghanistan, but it is distressing to see a westernized family like the Karzai’s engage in such fratricidal bloodletting.  It is also a reminder of how the rule of law necessary for the functioning of civil society simply does not exist in Afghanistan.

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The New York Times has a an interesting read about Pakistan’s unwillingness to take on its pet Afghan militant as part of its posturing for a post American Afghan future.  After riding the militant tiger and finding it hard to get off Pakistan is not yet willing to learn its lessons from the past.  Instead as many observers including this blog have noted, it remains steeped in denial and paranoia about Indian intentions in Afghanistan.  It is much easier to engage in tit for tat blame of India (with no real evidence presented) rather than face up to the mess they have made of their country.  While the Pakistani establishment fiddles, its country burns.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

What a difference from the Musharraf years, when the former Pakistani dictator peddled his b.s. and nobody in Washington bothered to check him.  However, by the end even the Bush administration lost patience with him starting covert drone attacks and looking the other way when street protests forced him into exile.  After years of ignoring the problem the Obama administration is essentially throwing down the gauntlet.  One of the concerns with the Afghanistan surge was that the Taliban could execute a strategic retreat to its Pakistani hideouts.  Now Pakistan evidently faces the choice of dealing with insurgents in its territory of having American drones do the job.

Neither option is particularly palatable to Pakistan.  Reeling from a wave of terrorist attacks, a move against the Afghan Taliban could make the situation worse.  On the other hand, its bruised national pride will find it hard to bear expanded American strikes inside its territory.  Another concern is that the civilian government already weakened by a pending court challenge to its legitimacy may not survive.  However, the real power in Pakistan belongs to the Army-ISI nexus.  While presenting them with stark choices, the administration has tried hard not to alienate them.

President Obama’s Afghanistan speech did not spend too much attention on Pakistan.  However, Pakistan is the key to resolving the military portion of the Afghanistan problem.  The Taliban’s safe havens that have existed with relative impunity over the past decade and beyond have to go if the Afghan surge is to have any success.

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Posted on 02-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, History) by Rashtrakut
  • Christopher Hitchens complains about how the saga of the party crashers overshadowed the visit of Manmohan Singh to the United States and vents about the state of media coverage.  This is hardly a new phenomenon, though it seems to have got worse in the last 20 years.  From my viewpoint the O. J. Simpson circus, I mean trial, was the start of this nonsense.  It showed when the media cut away from Clinton’s state of the union address to announce the civil verdict against OJ.
  • The Economist’s Banyan on how North Korea in the finest traditions of bankrupt regimes “revalued” its currency and robbed its citizens.
  • More Afghan perceptions on Obama’s speech.
  • A depressing read on how the Taliban is wrecking the rich Buddhist heritage of the region and threatening museums in Pakistan.
  • The Economist cites a Stephen Walt column on how German unifier Otto von Bismarck’s realism may be a guide on a realistic foreign policy to ease tensions in the world and tackle Iran.  It is an interesting theory, but historical analogies don’t always fit.  Bismarck’s concert of powers was ultimately doomed because Russia and Austria-Hungary’s ambitions (along with their proxies Serbia and Bulgaria) clashed in the Balkans and an over-powerful Germany clashed with the traditional British agenda since the Spanish Armada of preventing any one power from dominating the European continent.  These tensions were already evident by the time of Bismarck’s unceremonious dismissal.
  • How far will Dubai’s woes rein in Sheikh Makhtoum’s ambitious agenda?  It gives conservative Abu Dhabi a lot more leverage.

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    Posted on 02-12-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Barack Obama’s speech yesterday threw no surprises. (Transcript here).   More troops are headed to Afghanistan (see previous post here) which has caused heartburn on the left.  There are assurances that this is not an indefinite mission and troops are supposed to start coming back by 2011 which has caused conniptions on the right.  There have been the expected harrumphs about fighting corruption and getting the Afghans ready to step up when the Americans leave (original post on Afghanistan from this blog here).

    What is unclear whether this is feasible.  If the Afghan army is still a figment of imagination (previous post here) and the Karzai government remains as incompetent (both very likely scenarios) will the United States really start withdrawing to the chorus from Republicans that Obama “lost” Afghanistan?  Hopefully the answer is yes, because the prospect of an American withdrawal may be the only way to jolt the Afghan government to action.

    What happens if the Taliban withdraws to its safe havens in Quetta?  Will Pakistan, which only reluctantly turned its guns on its homegrown Taliban, start another fight inside its western border in a province (Baluchistan) already brimming  on the verge of open rebellion?

    What about the various NATO allies who have started withdrawing their troops?  Obama’s address noted that Al Qaeda’s attacks had targeted them as well.  Will that be sufficient to overcome the war weariness in those countries? Germany’s top general and deputy defense minister were forced to resign last week over a botched air strike and there are calls for a German withdrawal by 2011.

    A successful solution is not entirely in American hands and relies a great deal on lady luck (and on wobbly Pakistan doing its bit).  Obama’s speech was a sober and realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground, but perhaps too optimistic (as such speeches always are) about success in the future (See Juan Cole’s take here).  The “success” of the Iraqi surge may have raised hopes of similar success in Afghanistan, but these are two entirely different societies with very different problems.  The future in Afghanistan remains murky.

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    Posted on 25-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut
    • George Gavrilis suggests a closer look at the resolution of the Tajik civil war for the type of state system that may eventually emerge in Afghanistan.  While it is an interesting thought, Tajikistan did not have the same ethnic and sectarian tensions Afghanistan did and nor was it a proxy playing grounds for its neighbors.
    • Another look at the relative unknowns chosen as Europe’s President and Foreign Minister.
    • How the fears of a swine flu epidemic may have been cynically used as a gambit in Ukraine’s presidential election.
    • How Hezbollah has used a loophole in Shiite marriage law to satisfy the libido of its foot soldiers.
    • Time for the gathering of the Muslim faithful in Mecca for another Hajj, this event being overshadowed by swine flu fears and the political drama from Iran.
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    Posted on 12-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Andrew Sullivan praises Barack Obama’s deliberative decision making in Afghanistan.  With no end in sight to the war, no Afghan army that can engage the Taliban and an incompetent and corrupt local partner, it is heartening to see that the decision is finally discussing an exit strategy.  In the short run, I think more troops will be sent to Afghanistan (the number 30,000 is being tossed around).  But with American troops already outnumbering the Taliban on the ground, this will not solve a problem that ultimately lacks a pure military solution. The Taliban can always retreat to their Pakistani refuge or melt back into the tribal heartland.The US could try securing the perimeter like the Soviets and does have the decided advantage that the people outside the urbanized zones are not all shooting at its soldiers.  But that leaves a lot of white areas on the map in the previous link from Matt Yglesias that local allies need to fill.  The corrupt thugs and kleptocrats in Kabul will be of no help in this.

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    Posted on 11-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    A follow up on a previous post.  There is yet more chatter that the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar is trying to distance itself from the nihilistic campaign of Al Qaeda.  With the American ambassador in Kabul now joining the critics of an expanded military presence in Afghanistan and with Hamid Karzai showing no signs of mending his ways this could enable the United States to cut bait on the Afghan quagmire and focus primarily on Al Qaeda.  Aram Roston at The Nation has a disturbing account of how the webs of corruption in Afghanistan have the United States funding Taliban operations.  The more I read about this mess, the more I gravitate towards the camp wanting to stop wasting American lives and treasure to protect a bunch of corrupt and brutal thugs.

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    Posted on 09-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    The United Nations has declared the Afghan electoral farce as “credible and legitimate.”  I understand the political motivations for this resolution but frankly it insults the intelligence of anybody who is not a political hack.  How credible is a process where blatant fraud was initially overlooked, a runoff was ordered under intense international pressure, and the challenger eventually decided it was not worth it because the crooks in charge of the first round would administer the runoff.  We are stuck with Hamid Karzai and his kleptocrats because there is no Pashtun acceptable to the other minorities in Afghanistan.  Now the result of Karzai’s ham-handed and probably unnecessary electoral rigging is the alienation of the very minorities he was supposedly acceptable to.   The international community is understandably wary of redrawing the map, particularly when the border has remained in place for over 150 years.  However, at some point the question must be asked whether the tribal mish-mash that is Afghanistan is really viable as a modern state.

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    Posted on 02-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    With the withdrawal of Abdullah Abdullah and the declaration of Hamid Karzai’s victory the United States is now stuck with him.  The usual congratulatory call from the American President appears to have been unusually terse.  In addition to cleaning up his act on all fronts, much also depends on how Karzai reaches out to his opponents.  To the extent any goodwill gestures are made, they will likely be the result of outside pressure.  I am not holding my breath on much improvement on the Afghan domestic front.

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    It gets worse.  Presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah threatens to  pull out of next week’s runoff.  One of the contentious issues is the head of the Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Lodin who made some fairly partisan comments last week essentially assuring a Karzai victory.  I am not sure I understand the American desire for a “power-sharing” arrangement to solve the standoff.  For that to work, it requires a level of trust that does not exist on either side here.  Otherwise you have the problem that caused the breakdown of a similar process in Zimbabwe.

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    Posted on 30-10-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    This blog has not had much good to say about the feckless Hamid Karzai.  But today we shift gears to the men with the guns who make Afghanistan ungovernable while fattening their pockets.  A Who’s Who from the folks at American Progress.  Some like Rashid Dostum have a long bloody history.  The brothers Karzai are recent additions to the list after their brother’s elevation to the presidency.  Ismail Khan and his fiefdom of Herat was one of the few bright spots in Afghanistan between the fall of Mohammad Najibullah and the rise of the Taliban.  Lately he is yet another squabbling warlord hovering around the weak Karzai regime.  As these warlords squabble they help generate the insecurity that allows the Taliban to dream of a comeback.

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    Posted on 30-10-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    A previous post alluded to the problem the United States had in training an Afghan army.  Here is another article about the cultural, economic and logistical nightmares that bedevil the training effort of an Afghan army and have prevented any draw down of American troops.  The United States had a similar problem creating an Iraqi army, but Iraq at least had a tradition of a professional army.  Then there is the insistence on training the soldiers with the M-16.  This may be a boon for American military suppliers and it does have superior firepower than the the low maintenance AK-47, but one wonders whether a weapon which even trained American soldiers find difficult to maintain in rugged Afghan conditions is ideally suited as the weapon of choice for the rag tag Afghan army.

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    Posted on 27-10-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Matthew Hoh, former Marine corps captain who served in Iraq to join the foreign service resigned last month in protest over the continuation of the Afghan war.  This is not a man who can be dismissed as a week kneed liberal and appears to have been highly regarded.  This blog has been ambiguous on the subject of the Afghan intervention.  It has expressed concerns that the United States appears to be intervening in the next round of the Afghan civil war and that unless the corrupt Afghan government gets its act together the sacrifice of men and material will all ave been for naught.  Mr. Hoh seems to have expressed similar concerns from his vantage point on the ground with concerns that the American military involvement is fueling Pashtun nationalism.  These are valid concerns that must be addressed.  Unfortunately, domestic politics may trump these valid points as the ultimate tipping point on remaining in Afghanistan for the near future.

    Having generally ignored Afghanistan for most of the Bush presidency, former Vice President Dick Cheney reemerged last week to accuse President Obama of dithering on Afghanistan and urging him to rush his decisions in a manner that obviously worked so well on Mr. Cheney’s watch in Iraq.  Likely 2012 presidential rivals Mitch Romney and Tim Pawlenty whose foreign policy statements generally contain more platitudes than deep thoughts or practical policy are also tossing some criticism.  See here and here.  A cynical outlook suggests that a fear of looking weak will force the Administration’s hand, though if Mr. Karzai continues his delightful habit of blaming everybody but himself it will increase American eagerness to jettison its Afghan albatross.

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    One of the emerging narratives of American military operations in Afghanistan is that the combat there is just another round of the Afghan civil war.  Peter Bergen the posted this column last week disputing this and discussing the “merger” of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Then comes Vahid Brown with this column suggesting the interests are not as aligned as Bergen thinks.  Which is it?

    Ideological movements that claim a global reach have historically run hard into the brick wall of national sentiment.  The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and other communist countries ultimately put their national interests first instead of heading off into hare brained crusades like Che Guevara (which ended with his execution in Bolivia).  The founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Saud used his alliance with the fundamentalist Wahhabi ulema and the religious militia the Ikhwan to propel him to power.  But when the Ikhwan wanted to continue a global jihad and raid neighboring states he crushed them.  As Brown’s link shows, Hamas and Hezbollah have been pragmatically presenting themselves as national movements even if they may have sympathy with Islamic radicals elsewhere  (as an aside Hezbollah from Al-Qaeda’s perspective are Shiite schismatics).

    Of course the cold rationality displayed by other fundamentalists does not always translate to the mind of Mullah Omar.  This could be a feint meant to distract public opinion.

    But, American foreign policy rhetoric in the cold war and post-9/11 has not always appreciated that every communist and every jihadist is not automatically in bed with each other.  It was this rhetoric that was used to justify the Iraq misadventure (where Saddam Hussein was not an Islamic radical to begin with).  While there may be broad sympathy by ideologues for the cause, it does not always translate into any direct or effective aid.  The Afghan Taliban regime has cause for bitter feelings towards Al-Qaeda.  It is possible that they may be willing to engage in the more pragmatic goals of regaining power instead of engaging in the nihilistic crusades like the one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi waged in Iraq, but at the same time availing themselves of the military aid and training Al-Qaeda is able to offer.

    To what extent these purported divisions can be exploited in unclear.  But if they can lead to a repeat of the Iraqi scenario when Sunni groups banded together against Zarqawi’s blood lust,  America, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be better off for it.

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